Japanese Films at the New York Asian Film Festival 2017

The 16th New York Asian Film Festival takes places from June 30th until July 16th. There are almost 60 films on the programme with many highlights from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea and elsewhere. 

This year’s festival features a new Main Competition from which seven films from first- and second-time directors are receiving their Nort American premiere and the festival will honour many actors such as the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement awardee Tony Leung Ka-fai (Hong Kong).

I am interested in the Japanese films on the bill and have watched a few. All of the Japanese films screen in July and there are some really good titles on offer. Not only that but some directors and an actor will be in town. People, if you love films and want to find out more, go see Naoko Ogigami when she does her Q&A.

Here are more details (click on the titles to be taken to the festival page for the film you want to find out more about):


The Mole Song – Hong Kong Capriccio   


土竜の唄 香港狂騒曲 「Mogura no Uta Hong Kong Kyousoukyoku

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director:  Takashi Miike

Writer: Tomma Ikuta, Eita, Riisa Naka, Tsubasa Honda, Nanao, Shinichi Tsutsumi Yusuke Kamiji,

Website IMDB

I remember being sat in a cinema in Urawa talking to a friend while the trailer for this played on a loop. I wasn’t particularly interested in the first one and the sequel looked dire but the reviews for it have been pretty good as seen in this one from Variety.

Synopsis: Reiji is back for a second film and finds himself re-infiltrating the yakuza gang from the first movie and acting as a bodyguard for the boss and his sexy wife and daughter. Reiji has to watch his rampant libido but he also has to watch out for the police who think he has turned traitor and a girlfriend who suspects he’s not being faithful. Worse still are the Chinese syndicate trying to take over the gang’s territory. Reiji will find his priorities split as he heads to Hong Kong for a showdown.


RageRage Film Poster

怒り 「Ikari

Running Time: 142 mins

Director:  Sang-il Lee

Writer: Sang-il Lee (Screenplay), Shuichi Yoshida (Novel),

Starring: Ken Watanabe, Hikari Mitsushima, Mirai Moriyama, Aoi Miyazaki, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Gou Ayano, Suzu Hirose, Hideko Hara, Pierre Taki, Takahiro Miura, Mitsuki Takahata, Chizuru Ikewaki, Akira Emoto, Eri Fukatsu, Kirin Kiki, Kenichi Matsuyama,

Website IMDB

Rage looks like a dark dive into the recesses of the human soul. Viewers better brace themselves for some negative feelings as the worst of humanity is said to be explored and it will probably be powerful. The reason I say this is because the film is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida and he has had many of his books (many of which are fascinated with the idea of evil and people hiding their true identities) turned into films and they are almost all available in the UK thanks to Third Window Films: A Story of Yonosuke (2013), Villain (2010), Parade (2010) The Ravine of Goodbye (2013) isn’t one of them but it was at the London Film Festival. Sang-il Lee handled the big-screen adaptation of Villain (2010) and crafted a good drama. Rage looks to be on a par. It contains a stellar cast who have been in many films.

Synopsis: A a married couple is brutally murdered by someone. The only clues are that the murderer is a man and he wrote the word “Ikari” (“Anger”) with the blood of the couple. The killer undergoes plastic surgery and flees and Japan is gripped by the crime and whenever a male stranger appears in a community, the people there suspect that the stranger might be the murderer.

People such as Yohei Maki (Ken Watanabe) who works at a harbour in Chiba. He is concerned that the man his daughter Aiko (Aoi Miyazaki) is dating, Tetsuya Tashiro (Kenichi Matsuyama), might be the killer, because Tetsuya is not his real name.

An advertising executive named Yuma Fujita (Satoshi Tsumabuki) falls for a man named Naoto Onishi (Gou Ayano) and they begin to live together but Yuma soon develops suspicions that Naoto is the killer.

Izumi Komiya (Suzu Hirose) and her mother (Urara Awata) move to an isolated island in Okinawa and Izumi meets a backpacker named Shingo Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama) who is hiding a secret.

Three different communities across Japan, three different stories involving different people, all linked by one murder.

Destruction Babies   「ディストラクション・ベイビーズ , Dir:  Tetsuya Mariko, 108 mins.」 Destruction Babies is a disturbing and bleak film all about male


violence and the nihilism that develops when a society offers little future prospects to its young people. It offers no easy answers but packs fine performances such as the one given by lead actor Masaki Suda who is chilling as an amoral pugilistic devil stalking a small city rife with tough guys and scheming women. performance as a teen ready to destroy anything in his path. It stars award-winning actors Yuya Yagira (Nobody Knows), Nana Komatsu (The World of Kanako), Denden (Cold Fish), Sosuke Ikematsu (How Selfish I Am!) and Masaki Suda (The Light Shines Only There, Princess Jellyfish). The director will be at the screenings so audience members will be able to ask questions, many no-doubt surrounding the troubling philosophy and ending of the film and the director’s impressions of Japan’s future and the future of its youth.


ハピネス Hapinesu   

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: SABU

Writer: SABU (Screenplay)

Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Orakio, Hiroki Suzuki, Tetsuya Chiba, Arisa Nakajima,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: A mysterious man named Kanzaki (Masatoshi Nagase) arrives in a quiet small town. He brings with him a strange invention: an odd-looking helmet that he claims is a happiness machine. To prove it works, he uses the helmet on an elderly shopkeeper and as soon as he activates the device, the woman remembers long forgotten happy memories and becomes much more cheerful. The mayor becomes enthusiastic about the machine and asks Kazaki to stay. Soon, the entire town is allowed to experience the machine, but why does Kanzaki look so sad and what is his true agenda?

The Long Excuse   The Long Excuse Film Poster

永い言い訳 Nagai Iiwake

Running Time: 123 mins.

Director:  Miwa Nishikawa

Writer: Miwa Nishikawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),

Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Eri Fukatsu, Pistol Takehara, Maho Yamada, Haru Kuroki, Tamaki Shiratori, Kenshin Fujita,

Website IMDB

Miwa Nishikawa is one of the best directors working in Japan. Look at her filmography and you will find stand-out films like Wild Berries, Dear Doctor, Sway, and Dreams for Sale. Her latest one is on offer at Nippon Connection and it earned praised from critics.

“Writer-director Miwa Nishikawa’s somber reflection on the strains of marriage and parenthood is punctuated with beautiful existential undertones.” (Maggie Lee, Variety). The trailer works, it just has no thumbnail:

Synopsis: Sachio is a very successful but arrogant writer who is cheating on his wife Natsuko. During a trip away, Natsuko and her friend Yuki are killed in a bus accident. Sachio – whose celebrity status has led to media interest in the tragedy – initially finds himself unable to grieve. Ultimately, however, his life begins to fall apart as the reality of his wife’s absence hits him. During the public inquiries into the crash, he encounters Yuki’s husband Yoichi. Yoichi’s job as a truck driver has left him in a tight spot, unable to stay at home with his two young children. Sachio cautiously agrees to look after the kids while their father is out of town.

Survival Family   Survival Family Film Poster

サバイバルファミリ  Sabaibaru Famiri   

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Shinobu Yaguchi

Writer: Shinobu Yaguchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Fumiyo Kohinata, Eri Fukatsu, Yuki Izumisawa, Wakana Aoi, Masashi Arifuku, Mickey Curtis, Norika Fujiwara

Website   IMDB

Synopsis from the Nippon Connection festival siteFrom one moment to another the world goes dark in a catastrophic power outage. The Suzuki family decides to leave the struggling megalopolis of Tokyo and learns to survive in the Japanese countryside. Shinobu YAGUCHI’s charming film effortlessly mixes comedy, drama, and adventure genres while at the same time asking serious questions about the way we live.

Gukoroku – Traces of Sin   Gukoroku Film Poster

愚行録  Gukoroku」    

Running Time: 120 mins.

Director: Kei Ishikawa

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Tokuro Nukui (Original Novel),

Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Keisuke Koide, Asami Usuda, Yui Ichikawa,

Website IMDB

Q&A with director Kei Ishikawa

Synopsis from the Nippon Connection: Several years after the brutal, unsolved murder of a Tokyo family, ambitious reporter Tanaka attempts to find the perpetrators of the crime. Step by step, he comes close to discovering what really happened.

Wet Woman in the Wind   Wet Woman in the Wind Film Poster

風に濡れた女 Kaze ni nureta onna

Running Time: 78 mins.

Director:  Akihiko Shiota

Writer: Akihiko Shiota (Screenplay),

Starring: Tasuku Nagaoka, Yuki Mamiya, Ryushin Tei, Takahiro Kato,

Website IMDB

This one was at the Locarno Film Festival where it collected reviews like this one that paint this as an entertaining film to watch!

Q&A with director Akihiko Shiota and actress Yuki Mamiya

Synopsis: Kosuke Takasuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) is a former playwright who has fled Tokyo to live a quiet life in the country after becoming romantically burnt out. His wish for a quiet life is soon interrupted when he is targeted for sex by Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) and a theatre troupe decamp at his place…

Dawn of the Felines   dawn-of-the-felines-film-poster

牝猫たちMesuneko Tachi

Running Time: 84 mins.

Director:  Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Kazuya Shiraishi (Screenplay),

Starring: Juri Ihata, Satsuki Maue, Michie, Takuma Otoo, Tomohiro Kaku, Hideaki Murata,

Website IMDB

Having lived in Ikebukuro, I recognise some of the locations shown in the images and the trailer so it’s pretty exciting. The director, Kazuya Shiraishi worked on The Devil’s Path and Twisted Justice.

Synopsis: Masako, Yui, and Rie are three prostitutes who service all sorts of people from hikikomori to widowers. Through their eyes we see a variety of men from Tokyo and how prostitution has changed from the first film to this with the impact of the internet in what turns into character studies of the women.

Close Knit   karera-ga-honki-de-amu-toki-wa-film-poster

彼らが本気で編むときは、  Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa   

Running Time: 127 mins.

Director: Naoko Ogigami

Writer: Naoko Ogigami (Screenplay),

Starring: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Lily, Kaito Komie, Shuji Kashiwabara, Misako Tanako,

Website   IMDB

Naoko Ogigami is one of Japan’s interesting female directors, quietly working away making good films one after the other. She has international recognition but I might have missed her if two friends of mine hadn’t recommended her works, Yoshino’s Barber Shop (2004), Kamome Diner (2006) and Glasses (2007). The only one that I have reviewed is Rent-a-Cat (2012) and I adored it so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to offer with this one which takes a look at gender roles, family norms and alternative family units. It all centres on a transsexual bonding with her step-daughter, so to speak.

Q&A with director Naoko Ogigami

Synopsis from the Festival SiteEleven-year-old Tomo is pretty much left to her own devices. Unwashed dishes are piling up in the sink and supermarket onigiri are all there is to eat again. Tomo’s single mother usually comes home late, and drunk. When she leaves her daughter for good one day the girl has to rely on help from her uncle, who takes in Tomo to live with him and his girlfriend Rinko. At their first meeting Tomo is flabbergasted to discover that Rinko is a transsexual. Rinko immediately sets about taking care of Tomo; not only does she lovingly prepare meals but she also succeeds in creating a new home for the girl. But before long cracks appear in their perfect nest.

Suffering of Ninko       


仁光の受難 Ninko no junan

Running Time: 70 mins.

Director: Niwatsukino Norihiro

Writer: Niwatsukino Norihiro (Screenplay)

Starring: Masato Tsujioka, Miho Wakabayashi, Hideta Iwahashi, Yukino Arimoto, Tomoko Harazaki, Kyoko Kudo,

IMDB  Website

This is the debut movie of Norihiro Niwatsukino and it premiered at last year’s Vancouver international Film Festival before moving on to Tokyo FILMeX. It’s billed as a hilarious take on ancient Japanese history with many comedic and visual surprises.

Synopsis:  Ninko is a virtuous Buddhist monk in ancient Japan. Because of his holy vows, he suffers something many men would love – he’s irresistible to many women (and some men). In order to “purify” himself and learn how to rebuff sexual advances, he goes on a journey during which he meets a samurai named Kanzo and hears of a village decimated by the rapacious mountain goddess Yama-onna, who kills men to absorb their energy. Ninko sees defeating her as part as part of his quest.

Aroused by Gymnopedies   Aroused by Gymnopedies Film Poster

ジムノペディに乱れる 「Gymnopedies ni Midareru

Running Time: 83 mins

Director:  Isao Yukisada

Writer: Isao Yukisada, Anne Horizumi (Screenplay),

Starring: Itsuji Itao, Sumire Ashina, Izumi Okamura, Noriko Kijima, Yuko Miyamoto, Masaki Miura, Kenji Iwatani,

Website IMDB

Isao Yukisada has directed a variety of films such as the psycho-drama Parade (2010), the romance Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004) and the teen action drama Go (2001). The story is lead by Itsuji Itao who has appeared in all sorts of interesting and cult features such as Tamami: The Baby’s Curse (2008) and Love Exposure (2009), One Missed Call Final (2006) and Why Don’t You Play in Hell (2013). He gets to bed a bevvy of beauties (sorry, I couldn’t resist the alliteration) and most are new actors such as Izumi Okamura who appeared in the utterly amazing indie film Shady (2013).

Synopsis: A has-been director named Shinji Furuya (Itao) gets a variety of women into bed and to give him money as he seeks to exorcise himself of an emotional burden and finance his latest film which his lead actress has walked out of… That’s it. That’s the story. It manages to get a decent number of sex scenes from it.

Double Life   Double Life Film Poster

二重生活 「Niju seikatsu

Running Time: 83 mins

Director:  Yoshiyuki Kishi

Writer: Yoshiyuki Kishi (Screenplay), Mariko Koike (Original Novel)

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Masaki Suda, Lily Franky, Setsuko Karasuma, Naomi Nishida, Yukiko Shinohara, Shohei Uno,

Website IMDB

Yoshiyuki Kishi is a new director on the scene but he assembled a good cast for this interesting-looking drama of a student who becomes obsessed with her neighbour. For those wanting a psychological film, this looks like just the ticket!

Synopsis: Tama (Mugi Kadowaki) is a graduate student who lives with her boyfriend Takuya (Masaki Suda). When her professor Shinohara (Lily Franky) begins to teach her class about the French writer Sophie Calle, Tama becomes influenced by the philosopher/photographers infamous misadventures following strangers (try reading Suite Vénitienne) and she begins to stalk her neighbour Ishizaka (Hiroki Hasegawa) who is leading a double-life. Her behaviour continues to become strange and it affects those around her…

Love and Other Cults   Love and Other Cults Film Poster

獣道 「Kemonomichi

Running Time: 95 mins

Director:  Eiji Uchida

Writer: Eiji Uchida (Screenplay),

Starring: Sairi Ito, Kenta Suga, Kaito Yoshimura, Hidenobu Abera, Antony, Denden, Hanae Kan, Leona Hirota, Tomoko Hayakawa,

Website IMDB

This is the latest film from Eiji Uchida, director of Greatful Dead (2014) and Lowlife Love (2016). This review by Elizabeth Kerr from The Hollywood Reporter makes it sound like a worthwhile watch full of great performances from its young cast:

…Love and Other Cults packs a boggling amount of narrative into its lean 95 minutes. At times it can feel like too much, but Uchida juggles his characters’ various arcs efficiently, making every frame and line of dialogue count. An energetic pop-punk sensibility keeps the film moving at a breezy clip…

Synopsis: Ai’s (Sairi Itoh) has never had a stable home. Her religious mother stuck her in a cult and then she lands with a gang of drug-users and dropouts, a traditional nuclear family and worse. While she bounces around different environments, her classmate Ryota (Kenta Suga) follows a similar path as he falls in with a gang of wannabe yakuza. They harbour feelings for each other but will they be able to express them? It turns out that the two are star-crossed lovers of sorts, destined to meet each other in unsavoury circumstances

Japanese Girls Never Die  


アズミ・ハルコは行方不 Azumi Haruko wa yukue fumei

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Daigo Matsui

Writer: Mariko Yamauchi (Original Novel), Misaki Setoyama (Screenplay)

Starring: Yu Aoi, Mitsuki Takahata, Shono Hayama, Taiga, Kanon Hanakage, Ryo Kase, Motoki Ochiai, Tomiyuki Kunihiro, Akiko Kikuchi,

IMDB Website

This was the hot ticket at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and it has cropped up at other international film festivals. The reviews at Variety and The Japan Times paint a compelling film full of Japanese pop-culture tropes and cultural criticism about the position of women in society. It was directed by Daigo Matsui (How Selfish I Am!).

Synopsis: Cryptic graffiti, featuring information from a missing person poster, begin to appear all over a suburban town. Haruko Azumi is the subject and she has gone missing. Her disappearance goes viral across the news and social media. After the disappearance of Haruko, a mysterious group of high school girls begins attacking men at random. These two incidents overlap. Are they connected? Witness scenes from the lives of Japanese girls.

That’s it for the Japanese films at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Tickets go on sale June 15 (today!!!), and they cost $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with a 3+ film discount package and All Access Pass. Learn more at filmlinc.org.

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